Apple is expanding efforts to develop proprietary semiconductors to better compete in artificial intelligence, reducing reliance on major suppliers such as Intel and Qualcomm, reports Nikkei, quoting unnamed “industry sources in Asia.”
“By designing its own chips, Apple can better differentiate itself from others. Further, depending too much on other chip suppliers in the age of artificial intelligence will deter its development,” said Mark Li, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein.
Apple is already building its own iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch chips. It has also created fingerprint chips, and designed a chip for its AirPods that allows pairing with other Apple hardware. The tech giant also built the AI chip powering facial recognition in the upcoming iPhone X. However, the company also wants to build the core processors for its Mac laptops, Nikkei’s sources say.
What’s more, Li says Apple has invested in research and development for baseband modem chips responsible for mobile communication. Currently, it purchase these from Qualcomm and Intel.
I’ve said before that it’s only a matter of time until all of Apple’s hardware devices will be powered by ARM-based processors, including the Mac. A February Bloomberg report, quoting unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” says Apple is designing a new chip for future Mac laptops that would take on more of the functionality currently handled by Intel processors.
I believe the report is accurate. What’s more, I think Apple’s homemade processors will eventually appear in Mac desktops, as well as laptops.
Apple engineers are reportedly planning to offload the Mac’s low-power mode, a feature marketed as “Power Nap,” to the next-generation ARM-based chip. This function would Mac laptops to retrieve e-mails, install software updates, and synchronize calendar appointments with the display shut and not in use. The feature currently uses little battery life while run on the Intel chip, but the move to ARM would conserve even more power, according to Bloomberg, which says we may see it in a Mac laptop later this year.
As the late Steve Jobs once said, Apple products work so well because the company makes “the whole widget.” There’s no reason to think that Apple isn’t interested in making its own processors. By designing its own chips, Apple can build hardware and software that work together better than any off-the-shelf processor.
Apple certainly has the money to make its own chips. Admittedly, such a task would be a huge one, even for Apple. However, the groundwork has been laid.
In 2008 Apple bought P.A. Semi, a chip designer that made “energy-efficient processors based on the PowerPC architecture that Apple used in Macs for years before adopting Intel’s x86 chips.” In December 2008 the company picked up a 3.6 percent stake in Imagination Technologies, a graphics chip maker. In 2010, Apple scooped up Intrinsity, which specializes in ARM processors. In 2016, Apple acquired Passif Semiconductor, which manufactures switch-based wireless transceivers with low power consumption and a small footprint.